(written 11/27/2010 - total words 64,455)
Stan sat up in bed.
“Stan?” his wife asked, her voice slurred with sleep. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” he said. “I just remembered something. Go back to sleep.”
Stan swung his legs out of the bed, stepped into his slippers, and hurried to the study.
Door locked, he sat back in his chair and massaged his temples. He could feel it. The portal had been closed. Without it, he didn’t have the power to continue his work. He’d use up most of his power just stitching the veil back together into something that people would accept.
He sat forward with a grimace, a low grade headache already stabbing into the base of his skull. He dropped his face into his hands and started the work. It was painful and exhausting, but he had now choice. If he couldn’t fix the veil, all of his work would be lost.
* * *
Cal dropped Oscar off, then drove home. He took some time parking to make sure the mustang was in the same parked position he left it, then snuck inside. All was quiet. He put the keys back in the drawer and put the drawer back in its place.
He unloaded his keys and phone into the bowl in the kitchen and headed downstairs. His legs complained with every step. He only made it to the bottom by promising his body that his bed was at the bottom.
He opened the door and smirked. He never left his light on. It just showed how far out of sorts he was.
The smell of home and sight of his bed brought a warm feeling to his body.
He was slammed into the wall, his head bouncing off of the sheetrock. He yelped in pain as his arm was wrenched behind him and the side of his face was ground into the wall.
“Where’s my car?” Rob asked from behind him.
He pulled Cal’s arm up a bit further for emphasis.
“It’s in the driveway,” Cal spoke around the wall in his face. “It’s fine. I didn’t touch it.”
Cal gritted his teeth against the pain, but the real torture was being so close to his bed but so far from relaxing.
“Let’s go see,” Rob said letting go of Cal.
Cal turned around, rubbing his shoulder. Rob’s face was red, and his brow was drawn down to a furious stare. He inclined his head towards the open door and gave Cal a rough shove as Cal passed him.
They were outside for a good hour, Rob going over every detail of the car to make sure Cal hadn’t damaged anything. They even took a test drive to make sure the engine was okay.
“See?” Cal said as they pulled back into the driveway. “It’s fine. It’s a great car.”
Cal was hoping the compliment would help his case some.
“Yes it is,” Rob said cutting the engine off. “And it’s mine, not yours.”
He punctuated that sentence with a painful finger jab to Cal’s ribs.
“Get out of my car.”
They got out and stood at the front of the car.
Rob crossed his arms, frowning. The court of Rob was open, honorable judge Rob presiding. Cal tried to come up with some way to diffuse the situation, mostly so he could haul his carcass back inside and to bed, but his brain was far too spent to be of any use.
“Touch my car again and I’ll kick your ass,” Rob said. This was the opening statement of his verdict. “I’m not kidding around.”
He paused, looking at his car.
“In fact, I should kick your ass now,” he continued. “But I think we can work out a different agreement.”
“First,” he said, holding up a finger. “You’re going to wash my car tomorrow afternoon. Completely, in and out. And wax it.”
Cal nodded. There went his Sunday.
“Second.” Rob held up a second finger. In light of Cal’s mental state, the visible aids were actually somewhat helpful.
“I’ve been needing to do some work on the engine. I need about 500 bucks more to do it.”
“You’re going to give me that 200 bucks more.”
Cal started to argue. That was a lot of money.
Rob’s smile dropped and he shook his head.
“That’s the deal. That, or I kick your ass for the rest of the week.”
Cal nodded. In that light, 200 bucks didn’t seem like such a bad option.
“You want a cheap ride,” Rob said. “Next time call a cab.”
Rob walked over and rubbed at a spot on the hood. Cal stood in exhausted silence.
“Why’d you take my car, Cal?” Rob asked.
Cal was surprised by the hurt he heard in Rob’s voice.
“My scooter got towed,” he said. “At school. And I had to go see Angel.”
Rob laughed, shaking his head.
“Your girlfriend?” he asked.
Cal nodded, hoping his blushing face wasn’t so obvious in the dark night. He wasn’t really used to that term being used in reference to him.
“She’s a cutie,” Rob said. “Not really my style. A little too, I don’t know.”
Smart? Cal thought.
“Weird,” Rob said waving his hand at his face.
“But Jesus,” he continued. “You discover girls and within a week, it’s grand theft Cal.”
Rob walked over and put a hand on Cal’s shoulder, leading him back inside.
“You need to take be smart with women” Rob said. “Don’t let them screw with you.”
That began a half hour lecture on how to manage relationships and keep the upper hand. They sat on the stairs outside of Cal’s room. Cal could see his bed through the open door, taunting him, but he sat and listened to Rob, accepting his punishment. As far as the advice, even he knew it was laughably bad. All he had to do was look at Rob’s results to see that.
Finally with a clap on the back, Cal was released.
He shuffled into his room, shut the door, and fell into bed.
That was his last thought for seven beautiful hours.
* * *
Stan took in a deep, shuddering breath. He’d done it. The veil held, though it was much less complex than it had been before. He was safe for now. He shut his eyes tightly against the pain in his head. Well, he was safe as long as his body held out. It was overtaxed as well. Fortunately he had no option now but to sit back and wait. It would be months before he’d be able to do anything. He flexed his hands, trying to get the feeling back in them. Certainly long enough to get his body cooperating again.
In the far-reaching effects of the veil, he’d seen enough to know what happened. It was the three kids. They broke the binding of the portal guardian and were somehow able to corrupt the portal.
Cannon made sense because of his father, though he’d never shown any inclination of following in his fathers path. Martinez made some sense as well, as he and Cannon were rarely apart. Massenberg still bothered him. There was a bigger play in motion and he needed to understand it before he was able to continue with his work. He would need some help with that.
Without the portal, he could do little but blindly call out for help, broadcasting to whoever was listening. Hopefully whoever responded would be friendly and able to help him.
Once he got the portal reestablished, Cannon, Martinez, and Massenberg would pay.
A sharp stab of pain shot through his temples.
He rustled through his drawers for his medication. Hopefully he didn’t push it too far tonight.
* * *
The door alarm bleeped as Cal, Angel, and Oscar entered Comic Conclave. Dennis looked up briefly from the computer at the counter, then went back to whatever he was doing.
They passed the counter and went into the back room where game night was in full effect. Jason and Bazrak were arguing over variations in dwarven dialects.
“We did it,” Cal said.
The conversation at the gaming table stopped.
“What did you do?” Jason asked. His gaze lingered on Oscar’s cast.
“The portal,” Cal said. “We closed it.”
He put his backpack down on the floor and pulled out the coin he’d taken from the lake.
Jason stood up and took the coin from Cal.
“This is from one of the FBI guys?” Jason asked, looking at the coin.
Bazrak came over to look as well.
“No,” Cal said rummaging through his backpack.
He pulled out one of the agent’s coins.
“This is from the last agent,” he said. “The coin you have is from the lake bed. It was part of the portal.”
Jason looked at Bazrak. Bazrak shrugged.
“I guess it could have been part of the portal,” Jason said. “This looks like another binding, though.”
With the help of Angel and Oscar, Cal recounted their last evening at the golf course.
Jason nodded, pulling on his beard thoughtfully.
“I think this was a binding,” he said holding up the coin. “I think they had a portal guardian.”
“I thought the thing in the lake was coming through the portal?” Angel asked.
“If the portal was that permeable, we’d be in a lot of trouble,” Bazrak said. “There’d be all sorts of nasty critters running around here. No, there was a guardian bound to the portal to help protect it.”
“How did you close the portal?” Jason asked.
“Chlorine,” Angel said.
“We dumped a bunch of Chloro-Shock into the lake,” Oscar said.
“Interesting,” Jason said. “And that closed it?”
“I thought removing the coin closed it,” Cal said. “But we also put the chlorine in. Whatever did it, it worked. I haven’t had the bad dreams since that night.”
Jason looked at Bazrak who shrugged again.
“Sure,” Jason said. “Whatever worked. Maybe the chlorine disrupted the nature of the water, or killed some required component. I don’t know.”
“Is it temporary or permanent?” Oscar asked.
“I have no idea,” Jason said. “I think it would depend on how the portal was set up. If it was a natural portal, then it’s probably temporary. If it was something that somebody created, then it’s probably permanent. Until somebody tries it again, that is. So who was doing all of this stuff?”
“The agents,” Cal said. “But they’re all gone now. People don’t remember them at all.”
“No,” Jason said. “The agents, the guardian, the portal. That’s all the work of somebody.”
Cal had a sinking feeling. He shared looks with Angel and Oscar. They didn’t look too happy either.
“There’s somebody else?” Angel asked.
“Probably,” Jason said. “A ring leader of sorts. The guy who summoned all of these things across and put them to work.”
“We haven’t run into anybody like that,” Oscar said.
“That could be a problem,” Jason said. “This guy - or girl,” he nodded at Angel, “had all of these things here working for him for a reason, and now you guys have gone and screwed up whatever plan he had.”
“That means,” Jason continued. “That he’s going to need to summon more across.”
“Different things,” Bazrak added.
“Yeah,” Jason said. “Maybe the same things, or maybe different things. Regardless, he was working behind the scenes before. Now he’s got to go on the offensive. He has to make sure you guys don’t interfere again.”
That sounded really bad.
* * *
Cal, was annoyed. Not only were Angel and his mom trouncing him at Spades, but Oscar, who was not a game player by any means, was picking it up as well. Cal felt completely betrayed.
Oscar came along to help explain the situation to Cal’s mom, but she didn’t seem to need an explanation now. The self-correcting reality, as Angel called it, apparently extended to their parents. Cal’s mom seemed to remember setting up a night to play games, and she seemed a little wary around Angel, but she seemed to have forgotten the calls from the FBI and the sheriff. They weren’t about to bring it up to see if she could remember.
The doorbell rang. Cal was happy for the excuse to get away from the game.
Cal flipped on the porch light and answered the door.
The man on the doorstep was dressed nicely, but casually. He was middle aged and had a bit of a paunch to show it. Cal recognized him immediately. It didn’t hurt that he was holding a giant sign with his face on it that said “Re-elect Mayor Grant.”
“Mayor Grant,” Cal said, clearing his throat. “What can I do for you?”
“Well,” the mayor said. “I’ve been working hard to get out and see the people of Aberdeen, to make sure I can and I noticed somebody vandalized the sign in your yard. I wanted to replace it with a new one, unless you prefer me with the mustache and horns that is.”
“No,” Cal replied laughing, trying to hide his embarrassment. “I don’t know when that happened. Go ahead and put the new one up.”
“Thanks, son,” the mayor said. “I’m sorry, what’s your name?”
“Cal Cannon,” Cal replied.
“Cannon?” the mayor asked. “Are you Dan Cannon’s son?”
“Yes, sir,” Cal replied.
“That was a terrible tragedy,” the mayor said, a sad, serious look coming over his jovial features. “A great loss to the community.”
“Thank you,” Cal said feeling a catch of sadness in his throat.
“Well, thank you for your support, Cal Cannon,” the mayor said putting his hand out. “I hope to continue to improve the safety of our city so that we don’t have situations like what happened with your dad.”
“Sure thing Mayor Grant,” Cal said reaching out.
“Please, Cal. You can call me Stan,” the mayor replied, giving Cal a strong, confident handshake.